Web Sites Track Gas Prices For Drivers

An old college roommate, Danielle Davis, said her boyfriend Mark Steiner Jr.’s 1987 Chevy Nova broke down with a full tank of gas. They tried siphoning it with a standard garden hose, only to discover a protective screen separating the hose from the gas tank. They went to the store and purchased a $2 siphon, hoping for better luck. Steiner said their next step would be to remove the gas tank from the vehicle.

“We’re planning on siphoning the gas, whether we have to poke a hole in the tank or find a tube that goes down [into it],” Davis said. She said they now share a care.

Davis and Steiner and not alone in their quest to save money on gas. As gas prices continue to ping-pong back and forth, citizens across the nation are taking an active role in saving money on gas.

The United States Department of Energy releases an 18-month forecast every month. The Oct. 12 report said gas prices are expected to decrease in 2006, but due to Hurricane Katrina they remain high for now.

“Average retail regular gasoline prices increased after Hurricane Rita and are expected to average close to $2.84 per gallon for October,” the forecast says. “The average pump price for the third quarter of 2005 is now expected to be about $2.56 per gallon, up $0.67 per gallon from the third quarter of last year. National average pump prices are expected to increase to $2.68 per gallon for the fourth quarter due, in part, to the effect of the hurricanes on refinery capacity.”

Some blame prices on the war in Iraq, others blame prices on oil-consuming SUVs. Either way, gas prices are rising and affecting the lives and commutes of American citizens.

Jason Toews and Dustin Coupal, two 31-year-old friends from Minneapolis, are also fed up with paying high prices for gas. In response to the different prices from one gas station to the next, they founded 174 gas-price Web sites under the company name www.GasBuddy.com. Their first site opened in June 2000 as Minneapolisgasprices.com.

Volunteers, called price spotters, report prices to the local Web site. If they are not updates after that time, they are automatically removed from that site.

“I would fill up at a gas station and would drive down the street and find it for five, 10 cents cheaper and it always frustrated me,” Toews said.

The Minneapolis site took off, and by December 2000, they had 173 more domain names registered. They maintain a Web site for every state and for major metro areas, including Seattle. Toews said he and Coupal have full-time jobs but he spends 40 to 50 hours a week managing the Web sites, which are financed by banner advertising.

“I am a little surprised at how seriously some people take it,” Toews said. “We have thousands and thousands of people coming back on a daily basis to report prices.”

Toews said the number of people researching cheaper gas prices increases as the price of gas increases.

“When gas prices are high, people are more concerned about gas prices and are more likely to shop around,” Toews said.

Bellingham, Wash. resident Jeff Maudsley said he used to post prices on the site. At the time, he was travelling often from Bellingham to Tacoma, Wash. for airforce duty and would post prices from both cities. He would post prices five days a week and travel less than four miles out of his way to report prices.

“I think the GasBuddy.com and fuel price tracking phenomena started out as a way for the average consumer to outsmart the oil companies by finding the lowest price possible, allowing consumers to shop soley based on price,” Maudsley said. “Unfortunately, after tracking prices for a number of months, one quickly realizes that certain companies consistently push the upper limits of prices.” He said at the time, he would find a 20 to 30 cent different in prices within Bellingham.

John Wright, of Vancouver, Wash., is one visitor who used Washingtongasprices.com to help plan his vacation to Canada. He also contributed five to 10 prices to the site at least once per day, prices he makes note of on his way to work or while driving his daughter to school.

“As someone who remembers the 39-cent gas from the early 1970s, then the long gas lines during the 1973 oil crisis, I find the current prices outrageous,” Wright said. “But as long as we Americans keep guzzling gasoline, the prices will keep rising, so we need to find alternatives like hybrid cars, or how about hydrogen as fuel?”

Hybrid vehicles offer greater fuel efficiency than non-hybrid vehicles. The 2005 Honda Insight averages 63 miles per gallon for a manual and 56 MPG for an automatic. The closest non-hybrid vehicle in terms of gas mileage is the 2005 Volkswagon Jetta Wagon, which is diesel and averages 41 MPG, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The United States currently consumes 24 percent of the world’s oil output each year, according to an article in the Summer 2004 Harvard Journal Neiman Reports.

Some people are willing to burn part of their mileage to pay less for gas, later realizing the distance cancelled out the savings. Wright said the furthest he has driven to save money on gas was five miles.

“It was just once or twice to save two or three cents a gallon,” Wright said. “I realize now it’s not worth it, so I haven’t done that lately.”

Towes said people can make the trip of traveling further for prices worth the effort.

“Often you can save 10, 15 cents per gallon just by driving an extra block or two and knowing where to go on your driving commute,” he said.

The results of a poll conducted at GasBuddy.com attests to the frugal nature of Americans when it comes to gas. The poll of more than 5,552 respondents nationwide revealed that nearly 56 percent of respondents always buy regular unleaded gas, and 22.33 percent rarely buy fuel of higher grades. Only 5.26 percent said they never buy regular unleaded gas.

Davis recalled when she was younger and gas prices reached a dollar per gallon. The adults constantly complained to each other about the outrageous prices. She remembered thinking that a dollar was cheap; “Ice cream cost $1.25.”

Davis said she is annoyed when people complain about gas prices but fail to realize their wasteful spending habits:

“I can’t believe how a person would go spend $4.15 on coffee and then bitch about the price of gas.”

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